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As many as 12 murders dating as far back as 1955 could be solved as prosecutors unravel a horse-killing scheme linked to the death and disappearance of an heiress 17 years ago, newspapers reported Wednesday.

Helen Vorhees Brach disappeared in 1977. Prosecutors now believe she was killed when she threatened to report the killing of show horses for their insurance money.Her former boyfriend, Richard J. Bailey, was indicted last week on charges of ordering her death. He also was accused, along with 22 others, in the insurance scam. Bailey pleaded innocent.

The investigation turned up potential witnesses in the other killings, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday.

A suspect in the 1955 slayings of three Chicago boys could be arrested by the end of the week on federal charges for a 1956 stable fire, the Sun-Times reported. The man, now in his 60s, still is involved in the horse industry, the report said.

That fire, ruled arson, was part of an insurance scheme, but also was an attempt to destroy evidence in the boys' slayings the year before, unidentified sources told the Sun-Times.

Robert Peterson, 14, and brothers John and Anton Schuessler, 13 and 11, were found beaten and strangled in October 1955. Investigators at the time thought the boys might have sought shelter from the rain in a horse stable, the Tribune said.

The killings rocked a city then unaccustomed to such violence. Residents contributed to reward funds totaling $130,000, and police interrogated 3,270 suspects. No arrests were made.

Among the suspects interviewed was Silas Jayne, who owned the stable that burned a year later. Jayne later became an associate of Bailey.

Jayne was convicted in 1973 of killing his brother, George, three years earlier. He was paroled in 1979 and died of leukemia in 1987.

Two people told investigators they heard screams coming from Jayne's stable the night the three boys disappeared, the Tribune reported.

The Tribune also reported that investigators found people claiming to have information in:

- The death of horsewoman Cheryl Lynn Rude at Jayne's stable in 1965. She was killed when a bomb exploded when she turned the key in George Jayne's Cadillac. Investigators at the time traced the crime to Silas Jayne, but a key witness backed out and Jayne was not convicted.

- The 1968 ambush of Cook County Sheriff's Officer Ralph Probst, who was shot through his kitchen window in Hometown.

- The 1956 slayings of two sisters and the 1966 disappearances of three women from Indiana Dunes State Park.

The Sun-Times also reported that federal agents uncovered information on two mob-related killings.